Reviewed – 11th December 2019
“a wonderful display of talented performances with a script not quite up to scratch”
A tragedy doesn’t just befall the victim in the middle, it happens to so many people. One Under explores the effects of loss, ownership of grief, and the sometimes-bizarre ways we deal with it, whether we knew the person or not.
Sonny (Reece Pantry), a good-natured and well-loved young man full of potential, jumps in front of a train. His mother (Shenagh Govan) and sister (Evlyne Oyedokun) are left to manage their understandable grief. Train driver Cyrus (Stanley J. Browne) finds himself incapable of moving past the incident, and takes on the mystery of Sonny’s suicide, insistent that the story is more complicated than it might seem. We’re also privy to Sonny’s last day before his death, in which he decides to anoint himself the guardian angel of Christine (Clare-Louise English), a complete stranger.
The story works best when we’re unsure of how it will all piece together. Dialogue is playful and snappy; various relationships are displayed organically, painting a true-to-life image. But as soon as we reach an attempt at clarity- I’d say about an hour in- it all starts to drag a little. Each plotline is too complex to meet any other with any kind of harmony, as though writer Winsome Pinnock had lots of ideas, but no ending in mind.
The first ten minutes are also distractingly confusing, as Govan plays both a jaded fellow train driver trying to down-play Sonny’s death, and, in the following scene, his grieving mother. It’s unclear for too long that these are two different people. I’m sure casting director Sarah Hughes was working to a budget, but maybe next time splash out and get someone to step in for the first role. That being said, Hughes has done a splendid job otherwise. Govan as the mother perfectly balances force and affection; her relationships with both her children seem well-worn and honest. Pantry is spectacular, showing the full range of someone on the brink. English, too, expresses incredible nuance, full of kindness whilst distrustful of others’ good nature.
The scenery (Amelia Jane Hankin), though very pretty, doesn’t work. Two free-standing wooden shelves bow over the stage, carefully curated with plants and artfully stacked books. Scenes come and go in various locations, and I’m waiting for the backdrop to make sense. It’s possible it suits a scene in a hotel, or maybe Sonny’s flat, but the story takes place in a bunch of different places, so it really doesn’t make sense even if it were either of those, and it’s unclear either way.
The main trouble, though, is that within this one play, Pinnock has enough material for a series, following various characters, each with their own story, each suffering in their own private way. But in attempting to squeeze it in to one plot under two hours, she’s lost the thread. I would love to see this story properly unpacked, but for now, One Under, as directed by Amit Sharma, is a wonderful display of talented performances with a script not quite up to scratch.
Reviewed by Miriam Sallon
Photography by Patrick Baldwin
Arcola Theatre until 21st December
Last ten shows reviewed at this venue: